Family Dinner at Deerfield
Last fall, I wrote an article on DA Dining Hall’s commitment to sourcing and serving local and sustainable food. In this article, I wanted to highlight the sit-down dinner tradition at Deerfield.
When our family was considering independent college prep schools with our son, one critical piece of finding the right fit was the sense of community felt on campus. The idea of community is central to Deerfield’s mission and identity. Shared history and traditions contribute to a feeling of living in a supportive family environment. Deerfield’s sit-down dinner tradition is one of the most important (and delicious) customs. Seven times a week (five during winter term due to scheduling of teams and extracurricular all sharing indoor practice space) the entire DA community gathers for a family-style meal.
The round tables are made up of nine students and one faculty member. Table rosters are random and rotate each term. Students have the opportunity to meet and converse with classmates and faculty members they might not have met elsewhere on campus. Attendance is required. Each sit-down meal is introduced by the Dean of Students with the words, “For food, for friendship, for the blessings of the day we give thanks. Amen.”
According to the DA Rules and Expectations Guidebook, Students “should exercise good manners” at the table. No one is allowed to eat until everyone at the table has been served. Food is passed around, rather than across the table. The person who finishes a dish is expected to refill it from the kitchen. The use of P’s & Q’s and no talking with your mouth full are also enforceable rules.
Students take turns (two table rotations per year) waiting tables for sit-down meals. A first waiter arrives 15 minutes before the meal to set the table and bring the family platters to the table. A second waiter is responsible for clearing the table. If the meal served is a particular favorite, there will be a student-initiated round of applause at the start of the meal. The DA community gives the Dining Staff a round of applause at the end of each term, as well.
There are a number of special sit-down meals during the year. The Holiday Dinner on the last Sunday before Thanksgiving break features Beef Wellington and Baked Alaska. During the last sit-down meal the seniors attend, Buffalo Chicken, a perennial student favorite, is served. Although the Choate Day Eve dinner is on a Friday, and therefore not a sit-down meal, this special “Pep-Dinner” always features pork dishes in honor of Choate’s hallowed mascot. In the past, whole roasted pigs were served. This year, more student-friendly pork dishes such as BBQ Ribs, Asian Pork Belly, and Pork Salisbury Steak were featured at “Pork Fest 2016.”
Perhaps not every student relishes putting on their dress clothes for the Sunday night dinner. However, this is when the community joins together after the meal for another cherished tradition, the singing of the Evensong (see below for lyrics) with arms slung around each other.
Staging sit-down dinners for 600 students is a monumental task. Switching up between walk-though buffets and the seven sit-down dinners each week involves significant behind the scene effort. The dish crew must haul substantial wooden tables and chairs around the hall for each meal change-up. Thank you!
Originally, every meal was a formal sit-down dinner at boarding schools. Deerfield is one of the few remaining schools to still offer family-style meals that bring the entire community together. Today, schools like Andover, Exeter, and Northfield Mount Hermon are buffet style for every meal. Choate offers an occasional community lunch. Speaking of Choate, I wonder what THEY serve on the eve of Deerfield Day?
The Deerfield Evensong
Words by Richard Warren Hatch
Music by Ralph Herrick Oatley
Far beyond each western mountain
Gleam the fires of dying day;
Softly from each hidden fountain
Flows the river on its way.
All the valley lies in splendor
Hushed before the coming night;
From a hundred ancient windows
Flashes back the sunset’s light.
Now the meadow-wind’s soft whisper
Stirs the old elm’s silhouette,
Bends each leafy tower above us,
Caught in evening’s dusky net.
Now the day is done with striving;
Let the heart hold memory bright;
Soon these halls and fields we’re leaving—
Raise we song before the night.
Let the circling night be softened
By the ember’s last faint glow;
In the firelight we will gather
Bound by song before we go.
Deerfield Days are days of glory,
Memory lives in every one;
Let no other name be spoken
Till the even-hour is done.
See more viewpoints on the Dining Hall, including video and audio interviews.
Learn about other Deerfield traditions.
Interested in seeing who your son or daughter’s table companions are this month?
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